Though the Nashville Predators have looked better overall as of late (Thursday night’s 5-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets notwithstanding), there’s one worrying trend that’s appeared to creep up in the last month or so.

That trend has to do with Pekka Rinne.

While Rinne’s overall numbers on the season are still fine, his last 13 starts are not at all what we would expect. Take a look:

  • 3-7-2 record
  • 88.6% overall save percentage
  • 3.15 goals allowed per game
  • Allowed 4 or more goals in a game six times

But is the problem with Rinne? Or is it the defense?

It’s difficult to fully separate the goaltender from his defense. When a team allows five goals to go in the net like they did on Thursday, was it the defense allowing too many dangerous chances? Or was the goalie not doing his part?

Even Peter Laviolette acknowledged it can be a difficult analysis after Thursday’s loss to the Jets. Here was his response on how to assess the goals against in that game.

“I can’t paint it with one brush. There’s something different on a bunch of them, whether it be a rebound. There are different things that went on with each goal. We gave up a little bit too much…”

He’s right, but like with anything else in hockey, there’s always a trend somewhere. The Predators are definitely not the same defensive team they’ve been over the last few years, but it takes some digging to find out why.

How Difficult Is Rinne’s Job?

You can look at essentially two things with this analysis: where shots are coming from and how good the goalie is at stopping them.

Generally, shots are classified as either low danger, medium danger, or high danger. Here’s where Pekka Rinne ranks among 33 goalies with at least 1000 even strength minutes in terms of the shot quality he faces according to Corsica Hockey:

  • High danger: 9th most (163)
  • Medium danger: 17th most (243)
  • Low danger: 16th most (346)

Overall, over 21% of the shots that Rinne faces are of the high danger variety. That’s the 6th highest percentage in the league. So over the course of this season, Rinne has had to do a lot more work saving high danger chances than most other goalies in the league.

While Corsica doesn’t separate goalie performance on a game by game basis, this trends holds true to the last several starts. Looking at individual heat maps, it’s clear that Rinne has his work cut out for him. For example, here was last night against Winnipeg:

Nashville Predators Winnipeg Jets
Winnipeg Jets’ unblocked shots on Pekka Rinne from Thursday’s 5-1 loss. Via Natural Stat Trick.

The Jets had nine high danger chances right in front of Rinne, compared to the Predators’ five. That’s not going to make for an easy night for your goalie.

But now we have to see the other side of the equation…

How Is Rinne Performing At His Job?

We know that Rinne is facing more high danger shots than most other goalies. But how is he doing at stopping them?

Here’s how Rinne ranks among those other 33 goalies:

  • High danger save percentage: 1st (85.8%)
  • Medium danger save percentage: 24th (90.1%)
  • Low danger save percentage: 6th (97.9%)

Rinne has been stopping high danger shots better than anyone else in the league. He also has the 9th highest differential between his “expected” save percentage and his actual save percentage. This means that Rinne is performing better than we’d expect compared to most other goalies.

Pekka Rinne Nashville Predators
Pekka Rinne has had his work cut out for him this year. Image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports.

His medium danger save percentage is lower than you’d expect, but those shots only make up 32% of all the shots faced. That ranks 24th among those goalies. So Rinne is probably not in much danger there.

Given all of this, it’s unfair to place most of the blame on Pekka Rinne. He certainly seems to be performing as we’d expect, and in some cases even better than we’d expect.

So Who Is To Blame?

As Laviolette said on Thursday, there’s something different about every goal allowed. Sometimes a defender lost his man. Sometimes a winger was puck watching. Sometimes the goalie was out of position. Sometimes the other team has a match-up advantage.

But if you are looking to place blame on the overall defensive performance, I would refrain from placing it on Rinne just yet. He’s done his part.

Instead look at other factors. Consider that the defensive pairings just changed and will maybe take a few games to adjust. Consider that the team is still missing Kyle Turris, which can create match-up problems at both ends. Consider that the bottom pairing has not been very good: Dan Hamhuis and Yannick Weber were on the ice for all four even strength goals the Jets scored last night.

Also consider that the Jets are a tough match-up for the Preds with their size. While the Preds can match-up well with teams like Washington or Tampa Bay because they have speed, they often fall prey to the size that teams like San Jose or Winnipeg have.

When the Predators lose or don’t play well, it’s easy to overreact. There’s high expectations for this team. But hockey is a complicated game with a lot of luck involved. It’s always best to consider all the factors that might influence poor performance when trying to make assessments.

And for the time being, Pekka Rinne is not the problem.

— All stats via Hockey-Reference, Corsica Hockey, and Natural Stat Trick. Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —

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